Joyfully Thankful

It has been  a custom in our family to try to avoid all things Christmas until after Thanksgiving dinner.   We don’t wear Christmas themed clothes or sweaters until after Thanksgiving.  We don’t listen to Christmas music until we put up the tree the day after Thanksgiving, which is our tradition instead of joining the craziness of Black Friday shopping.  The girls are not to start talking about what they want for Christmas. (This never sticks, and as the  main gift shopper a little discussion about this early on is helpful.) Even I would do my part by not ordering a Peppermint Mocha or buying Peppermint Bark until after Thanksgiving!  My husband and I made this effort with the best of intentions to be sure our girls were filled with gratitude before joining in with the commercialism “I wants” of the Christmas season.

This year seems different. When the girls weren’t with me, I admit, I have already had a few Peppermint Mochas while enjoying conversation with friends.  A few days after Halloween I heard  Christmas music coming from upstairs.  I went up and the oldest quickly turned it off. With a smile on my face I told her she could leave it on, but while pointing my finger told her to keep it in her room.  Guess who decided to stay in that room with a Pandora Christmas station playing and help her put away her laundry?!?!  My little one excitedly played her favorite Christmas CD in her bedroom.  A few days later we were listening to Christmas music in the family room and in the kitchen.  It’s not constant.  It’s not frequent.  It does bring joy.

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I don’t think it’s completely wrong to experience a little early some aspects of the wonderful, miraculous season that is Christmas. My husband isn’t even complaining about it or expressing concern that we aren’t taking time to be thankful first.  The girls seem to know how to minimize their toy catalog gazing and discussions.  When they do discuss, because I have asked for planning purposes, the conversation is about a gift they want for the two of them to SHARE. They have favorite traditional carols which remind them of Christ, the true gift of Christmas. They are thinking ahead about what gifts to give to others.
Why has it changed this year?   Nothing has changed for the girls other than I am not stifling their Christmas spirit. What has changed for me?   I think it has something to do with the events over the past few months in our national and world news.  We are all in need of the extra joy and love the Christmas season brings. We need Christ every day, but it seems as a society we naturally think of Him more at Christmas.  We need to keep our focus on Him in these trying times of our world.

We have not forgotten Thanksgiving.  We take time to give thanks every day.  Instead of the children feeling like we are getting through Thanksgiving before doing anything related to Christmas, this week we will joyfully prepare for our family Thanksgiving.

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Happiness Does Not Equal Perfection

12/23/2016  I’m reposting this as a reminder to enjoy the peace and love of Christmas with your families as Mary did.  I’m quite certain the stable was not perfect.
I catch myself doing it from time to time;  you know, trying to make a holiday or other special day perfect.  I’m certainly not a perfectionist, but for some reason these ideals creep into my mind around holidays like Christmas or Easter and when I am hosting birthday parties for my children.  I find myself getting so caught up in these ideals that it causes me stress which results in my own unhappiness and grumpiness, and worse yet, it steals the happiness from the people whom I am trying to bring joy.  It’s a vicious cycle.

It was the day before Easter Sunday this year when I started feeling it.  I had not slept well the night before, I had to get the kids to an egg hunt, bake the bunny cake (which was a new thing for us this year, but we were all looking forward to it) and dye the eggs.  Not to mention tidy the house in preparation for my brother and his wife who would be here for dinner on Sunday.   Oh, and finish the routine laundry and prepare a regular Saturday dinner.   My daughter entered the kitchen with anticipation inquiring, “Are we dying eggs or baking the bunny cake first?”  I must have worn the stress on my face and probably didn’t realize I let out a frustrated sigh.  That’s when sadness appeared on her face and she said to me, “Why aren’t you happy?”  Whoa!  What?  Yikes, what am I doing?  OK, I know what I need…a power nap, but there is really not time and I just had a cup of coffee so sleep won’t happen.  I really just need to relax and maybe prioritize.  What is the priority?  Eggs or bunny cake?  Neither.  The priority is to build happy memories with my girls.  It is for them to see the love of Jesus as we celebrate Easter, not the grumpiness of Mommy.  We colored the eggs together and then prepared the cake batter.  Things worked out.  Instead of having a homemade dinner that night, we ended up having Chipotle for dinner on our way back from the grocery store, and that’s okay.  I got some other things done while, get this, they decorated the bunny cake all by themselves.  It looked great and tasted delicious!

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The very next week as I was getting my daughter’s 6th Birthday Tea Party ready and I started to feel it again….the desire for it to be perfect.  The day before the party my oldest, confident after the success of the Bunny Cake, made and decorated the birthday cupcakes all by herself.  My birthday girl and I set out the activities and filled the favor bags together.  I had put off buying the flowers and balloons until the day of the party so they would be fresh.  The morning of the tea party, I started feeling the frantic feeling again of having things tidy, prepared and perfect.  My birthday girl was cleaning off the coffee table and brought me a bookmark which she thought was mine so I could put it away. “Keep Calm and Pray”  were the words on the bookmark.  That was all I needed for a reality check.  I said a quick little prayer and remembered that ten years from now, or even tomorrow, it won’t matter if I had the fruit cut in cute little shapes to match the sandwiches. The party doesn’t have to be perfect to bring my sweet little six year old and her friends happiness.

Am I cured?  Will I never again stress about an event or occasion?  Probably not.  I do think I will catch myself early enough to keep calm and pray, and remember that happiness does not equal perfection.

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Time to Create

imageWe all focus our attention to academics, and making sure our children are active in organized sports and structured activities.  With all of these concerns and commitments, are we allowing  our kids to just be creative?  A little over a year ago, I let go of the morning resistance to get our school work started.  I was realizing that after breakfast (sometimes even before breakfast) was the time my girls seem to get caught up in their own ideas and creations.  Sometimes it was Lego constructions or bead work.  More recently it is drawing, painting, crochet, or even acting, videography and photography.   It was last year that I embraced this time and instead of demanding their obedience to get dressed and sit at the table to do school work, I gave them the time to create.  Within reason, I allowed them time to complete the project they had started.  They understood that the next thing to do was begin their school work.  Yes, it’s also beneficial to incorporate their talents and interests with the academic lessons, but I think the unstructured time without imposing expectations of the end product is also necessary.  Allowing this time to get their creative juices flowing and to express themselves in the mode of their choice made our academic times even more enjoyable and productive.  Currently, I see this optimal creative time of day changing for one and I need to be sure to work with it instead of against it, and allow her the time to create.

They Didn’t Earn It

One week in March my two daughters brought home a total of six award ribbons and two medals.  I’m not bragging. I’m actually expressing frustration.

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One daughter did earn two of her four ribbons and the youngest did earn one of her two ribbons.  They both entered artwork in a community art show.  As their mother, of course I liked their art and a few of the pieces will be hung on a wall, not just the fridge.  I’m proud of the ribbons they were given for actually placing, but I am annoyed with the” honorable mention” ribbons they brought home just because they entered the show.  Every piece of art, for all who entered had a ribbon  placed on it.

Oh, and the medals?  They were given them because they were in a parade!  No, they did not receive a performance award in the parade.  The organization they were representing handed them out just for being there.  When I was young the opportunity to be in a parade was exciting enough.  I certainly didn’t need a medal to feel good about it.

As a family we try to avoid activities which award kids for meeting minimal expectations for a few reasons:

1)  Lessons can be learned in losing.  If you see someone else carrying a trophy or wearing a medal and you are not, you will develop a desire to work harder to earn said award.

2)  Kids begin to expect a prize or award for everything they do.  They become too extrinsically motivated instead of developing the intrinsic motivation, the desire which comes from within themselves.  We want kids to do well because it feels good to them, not because of something someone hands to them.

3)  It minimizes the achievement to the kids who put in the hard work and preparation to win.  Is it right that one who reads about the activity, practices the activity at home as well as in organized practice, and who puts for their best efforts in practice (not just there to socialize) walks out with the same award?  I don’t think so.

I hope our family stance on this will provide positive outcomes for our children.

Praying Dance Mom

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I pray with and for my kids as I’m sure many of you do.  One night as a feis (Irish Dance Competition) was approaching, I was saying bedtime prayers with my daughter.  She just had one more dance to get a 1st so she could move up a level and begin wearing the poofy, blingy skirt and big wig.  She prayed that God would help her with her dance and reluctantly, we prayed for the win.  First we hesitated.  When there is war and cancer and homelessness, is it really okay to pray for a 1st place in a dance competition?  We discussed this, and considered that God wants us to take all things to Him in prayer and petition and that we are ALL important to Him, so we started praying for the win.

A couple of days later she was at the feis and as usual after she checked in and got in the line, I watched and prayed silently over and over again.  I was 0kay with praying for the win.  As the girls stepped out to dance one girl came out and then stopped….she forgot her dance…..she fumbled a bit and then just went back to the line in tears before the dance was over.  I stopped praying for my daughter and even prayed to God saying “We will be ok, don’t worry about us.  Please just take care of that little girl and guide her mom to handle this with care and build her back up.”   A few minutes later it was my daughter’s turn to dance.  She was on fire!  Well, for most of the dance she was on fire.  Near the end I could tell her feet fumbled just a little, but she got right back into it.  Maybe the judge didn’t see her error.  As she came to me after getting off the stage she expressed disappointment.  She could tell the judge was watching her and was impressed until she forgot her step, and yes the judge was still watching her.  She seemed to be handling it well.  I prayed in my head as we walked through the crowd thanking God that my daughter was handling things well and continued to pray for the other little girl who had been crying on stage.

Later when we went to look at results we saw that my daughter placed 3rd in the dance she so desperately needed to place 1st.  She was not surprised, but she was definitely disappointed.  On the drive home that day, as she was eating her traditional after feis M&M Blizzard, I reminded her that God is answering our prayers, but he is saying to her “not yet”.   I noticed for the next week or so that she was somewhat quiet and routine with our bedtime prayers.  She stopped praying about dancing altogether.  Oh no…we should not have prayed for the win.  I set her up to be angry with God.  I also realized that I was underestimating God when I thought he had to forget about her to take care of another girl.  Don’t I know he can do ALL  things and care for ALL of us at the same time?!?!   Oh no.  What have I done?

Two weeks later, early on a sunny August morning, we were on our way into another  feis.  She didn’t want to pray about it in the hotel room.  As she was pulling her Zuca up the sidewalk ahead of me I prayed silently,  “God, whatever happens today, may it bring her closer to You.”  That was all.  That was my simple prayer.  Of course, as she was in line waiting her turn to step out to dance I  continued with my usual prayers for her to have confidence and to do her best, but I didn’t pray for the win.  And my daughter?  She did eventually earn her poofy, blingy skirt and big wig.  In fact,  she is now in her solo dress and wears a tiara in her big wig.  More importantly, she is close to Him.  She prays daily, sometimes with me and sometimes on her own.  The night before every feis she prays aloud for God to be with her as she dances and she prays for all of the other dancers.  My dance mom prayer every feis morning continues to be, “God, whatever happens here today, may it bring her closer to You.”

Take Time

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Take time to smell the flowers.   Honestly, we took time to look at a dead lady bug, under a microscope no less.  I’m sure you all have priorities to keep and tight schedules to follow, I know I do.  Just the other morning we were reading about Chemistry and decided, reluctantly for me, that we’d do the suggested observation.  I was really considering skipping it that day and just moving on to math, outlining for the new writing assignment or studying for Memory Master (which is like preparing your Baltimore Catechism for First Holy Communion in the 1970’s, but for six academic subjects).  Of course, we want to cover all of our academics before we leave for dance class in the afternoon.  Something nudged me to get the microscope out of the box and look at the salt up close.  As I boiled the salt and let the water evaporate the girls continued to look at EVERYTHING under the microscope.  They looked at coins, an avacado smear, a leftover toast crumb, my engagement ring, an emerald necklace, and fish food.  I let them explore as I monitored the boiling salt on the stove.  At this point I was realizing this was good quality learning fun, and not just something in the way of what really needed to be done. Then I heard it.  Enthusiastically, my 5 year old declares, “Let’s look at a dead ladybug!”  Sure enough they found one.  (We have ladybug issue from time to time in our house.  They say the are good luck, right?  But are they good luck if they are dead?  I digress…)  I realized what a love for learning I almost let slip by because it wasn’t what I had scheduled for the day.  And get this, once we put the microscope away, they joyfully continued with the regularly scheduled assignments. So, whether you homeschool or monitor homework in the evening, please learn from my almost mistake, and take time to look at dead ladybugs.